Just a moment to say thank you

Today’s post was written by one of my English Composition II students, Crystal Riley, on the topic of the motivation of gratitude. I have known Crystal since junior high school. When God allowed our paths to cross again and for me to serve as her instructor, I felt truly privileged and have enjoyed watching her grow as a person and as a writer. I have learned at least as much from her as she has from me–isn’t this the beauty of teaching?

We all have had someone to wait on us and say thank you for your patronage. Have you ever really said thank you back to the person who waited on you in a way that was meaningful?  In my life I have had several jobs that required me to wait on people.  It is not a gratifying experience.  Sometimes I wanted to say, “Here is your crap, please don’t come back!”  I never did; I always took the time to force a smile and say thank you. I got so good at the routine that I caught myself sending off my unwanted family guests in the same way I thanked the unwanted customers who left the store.

There was an old man who came to the gas station every morning at 4:30. I made his coffee and waited on him every day.  I thought he sat in that booth sleeping until his friends came in shortly after.  All the old men would drink coffee and share stories.  My shift ended at 7:00.  Every morning just before I closed my drawer, he paid for his breakfast and told me I was a good ole’ girl or told me how good the gravy was.  He always said something nice; he even commented on how well I had shined the floors!  I never thought much of it.  I always just thought he appreciated that I personally filled their cups instead of making them get up to get their own coffee.  It was a small thing.

Later I worked at a video counter in the local grocery store and missed the old men from the gas station.  One night my old man came in, and I waited on him and his granddaughter.  He had been left to babysit.  I helped them select a video, and as he was paying for it, he thanked me.  He had a genuine smile and kind eyes.  He patted my hand and told me he knew I was a nice girl.  It is a crazy thing that the way he said thank you to me just made my day even if the praise didn’t come from my boss.  I told him I just loved waiting on him and how nice he was.  He responded that it costs nothing to let someone know that they are doing a good job, but it could mean the world to the person doing the job.

I thought about him often and what he said.  I’ve had some of the worst jobs you could imagine, and I think about my co-workers at times, and how awful things are for them. I make it a point to say thank you when someone helps me, to take that extra moment to let them know I appreciate them.

It only takes a moment, and it may be the only kind word that person hears all day.  If we all just take a moment to offer a word of encouragement or take a moment to simply be kind, we could all make a world of difference in how someone’s day goes. I never knew that old man’s name, and he never called me by my name, but I think about him because he was so nice, and his extra words of encouragement made my day nearly every day.

Give them their flowers

Today’s beautiful post is written by Latresha Woodruff Johnson, one of the most encouraging people I know. Latresha, thank you for continually pointing me to God and reminding me that there is always hope in Him.

IMG_7283My grandmother was named Jewel, and how fitting, because she always gave us little pearls of wisdom.  She also left us with some funny saying as well, some laced with a few four letter words (I won’t repeat those here), but I will share these:  When talking about my uncle, whom she said couldn’t keep a secret, she would say, “That boy couldn’t hold 5 ounces of water in a 10 gallon bucket with a lid on it,”  or for people who think they know it all, “His head is bigger than yours and he don’t know everything so neither do you.” And this is what she would say when you were “testing her nerves” by doing something she told you not to do: “You don’t believe fat is meat greasy!” 

Momma, as we all affectionately called her, tried to teach us to always be grateful to people even for the small things that they do.  Now here is where I insert a pearl of wisdom from Momma, “Give them their flowers while they are here.”  

 

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

Latresha Woodruff-Johnson

That’s pretty self explanatory, but I will further break it down. She meant — say thank you to people while they are living on this earth; don’t wait until it ‘s too late.  I  know what it feels like to smell the flowers of gratitude.  I spent 16 years as a television news reporter, and now my job is to keep news reporters informed.  There was one particular reporter who I saw some promise in, but she tended to be very inconsiderate of my time and would show up unannounced.  I am a matter-of-fact person, so I definitely put her in her place, nicely though.  But again I saw promise in her, so whenever she would come by, I gave her pointers on being a great reporter and putting her stories together to make them effective.  I have watched her grow into a seasoned reporter, always thinking some veteran reporters at her TV station really must be spending time mentoring her.  Well, to my surprise, she sent me flowers this week – not literally but figuratively the way momma sent flowers.  I got a card (a nice handwritten one the way I like them–all personal) from this young reporter which read:

 

LaTresha,

You have taught me so much!  Your encouragement and feedback has helped me grow over the last 3 years into the reporter I am today.  I’ll be sending you my work from Cincinnati for more tips!  Thank you for always being so sweet, so accessible and such a joy to work with. I wish you all the best! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…..

 

I can still smell those flowers… the fragrance will linger in my mind for years to come.  I feel like a proud parent. She is going to one of the largest TV markets, and I, the little ole girl from Mississippi, played a small role in molding someone into not only a master at her craft but into a kinder person. 

 

*So Lisa, I am giving you your flowers and showing you gratitude for making me proud of you and for making me feel that my words to you resonated and made a difference.  

*Bethany, I am showing you gratitude for being that person who isn’t afraid to share with the world your struggles with raw and pure emotion and honesty and allowing us to celebrate your victories and milestones and sharing that beautiful baby girl with us.  I know you, like us all, are a work in progress, but it’s clear GOD has his hands on you.  It’s so nice to be there to watch you continue to evolve.  You are a wonderful person and a woman of GOD, and I love you.  Smell the flowers!!  

*and God,  I try to show you gratitude daily by praying, reading your word and being an elevator person to others instead of a basement person.  Thank you for looking past my faults and seeing my needs.  Thank you for your Grace and Mercy (or as momma would say “thank you for dem old twins  — Grace & Mercy”), they are new everyday.  I love you Lord, I have your flowers, and I know one day you will call me home to heaven, and I will be there with a big bouquet saying,”Here I am Lord; smell your flowers!”

 

LaTresha Woodruff Johnson

Angels unawares

My car angel reminds me of all the people God has used to help me in the past.

My car angel reminds me of all the people God has used to help me in the past.

My whole life, God has used people to help me, serve me, minister to me, and reach out to me without my knowledge and without my permission. These people, whether they intended to be or not, were used by God in my life. Some of them might not have wanted to be used by God, but God didn’t give them a choice, thankfully. He uses whomever, whenever, however He wants. He is God, you know.

If I’m looking for these moments–little miracles when God transforms ordinary people into angels for my benefit–I find that there are too many to count and certainly too many to write about.

When I was five years old, I stayed after school for Brownies–not the fudgy kind. The kind who wear brown uniforms and aspire to grow into Girl Scouts someday. My mom was at home, sick with a cold, and I knew it. Even at five, I felt the need to take care of others. So I abandoned the meeting and raced outside to try to catch the bus. I was too late. The bus was leaving the parking lot, and as I ran after it, I tripped and fell and skinned the palms of my hands on the rough surface of the asphalt. I cried, knowing I’d waited too long to catch the bus and that my indecision about whether to stay after school would mean that my mom would have to drive to school to pick me up in her ill condition.

Thankfully, one of the “big kids,” a high school boy with a rockin’ mullet, saw my plight and asked the bus driver to stop. He opened the back door of the bus (probably without the driver’s permission) and beckoned me to the bus. I was relieved and thankful when he lifted me off the pavement into the bus and wiped the snot from my face. I’m sure he didn’t know that he was helping me help my mom, a single mother of four daughters.

When I was in high school, I worked as a carhop at Sonic. Granted, I quit in December when the temperatures plummeted, and I realized that I could make almost the same amount of money per hour while contained in a heated, dry building serving up hot fries and Big Macs. But prior to quitting, I sucked it up and carried trays of fast food out to patrons while freezing my tail off. One school night, right before closing as the wind wailed and the rain pelted my classy black Sonic jacket, I delivered two Brown Bag Specials to a minivan. A pretty Asian woman was behind the wheel, and she handed me a $5 bill as a tip and thanked me for facing the elements so that her family could have supper without getting out in the storm.

I’m not sure if she was always a kind, generous customer, but God used her that night to remind me that even seemingly insignificant tasks can serve a greater purpose and that there are still good people with compassionate hearts in the world. I still see that lady around town once in a while. I’ve never told her thank you, but maybe I will next time I am in line behind her at our local coffeehouse.

My sophomore year of college with my little sister, Jessie

My sophomore year of college with my little sister, Jessie

As a college student, I blazed a trail between my hometown and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, more times than necessary to visit the man my heart beat for. I’d traveled those highways so many times that it had become second nature. In true irresponsible college student fashion, I often drove on too little sleep, too late at night, with too many things on my mind. One day after leaving Bartlesville, one of my tires blew out just as I pulled away from the tollbooth. I panicked. I called the boyfriend, but he was two hours away. I told him I’d figure something out and would call back if I couldn’t. My version of “figuring something out” was to roll up my windows, lock my doors, and pray for God to miraculously inflate my tire.

He didn’t. But a kind, middle-aged man in a pick-up truck pulled up behind my little Honda Civic. He approached my window slowly, and I cracked it just a tad so I could hear his words.

“Ma’am, I can change your tire for you. You don’t have to get out of the car.”

I hesitated. My mom had warned me about creepy perverts on the interstate and had told me about her near-death experience when one of them tried to attack her after pretending to know who she was and getting her to pull over onto the shoulder. Two truckers used their CB radios that day and helped her escape, blocking the man in and helping police officers identify his vehicle. I didn’t want to go through that kind of ordeal.

“No thanks.”

He had a pained look on his face, a look that told me that he understood exactly why I was declining his offer to help and a look that told me that he felt sorry that he couldn’t help because of all the jerks in the world who’d given men like him a bad name. He walked away.

Then I remembered that I’d seen a sign along the highway in Oklahoma with a number to dial for emergency assistance. I dialed it.

A grumpy state trooper approached my window 20 minutes later. I then learned that the emergency number was for real emergencies, not flat tires.

The state trooper told me that he normally would never change a tire for someone, but since I was a single, white, tiny female so far from home, he would do it just this once. He made me watch him change the tire and explained what he was doing. I told him that my stepdad had taught me the same thing, but that I had barely paid attention. He told me to buy a better car jack and used the one in his squad car instead of mine. After putting the spare on my car, he instructed me to turn around in the median and follow him back through the tollbooth and five miles into Muskogee to buy a new tire. I did exactly as he instructed, and when we got to Wal-Mart, he waved and drove away.

I never thanked him, and I never thanked the man whose help I refused. But God used those men to remind me that not everyone has bad intentions and that He loves me enough to take care of me, even when I have been too irresponsible to take care of myself.

As a young director of career development, 2006

As a young director of career development, 2006

A few years later, as a young professional woman on a business flight to Michigan one cold November, I sat next to a man who, if my memory serves me well, was named Steve Price. He worked for Steelcase, a corporation responsible for designing and selling state-of-the-art office furniture. He showed me pictures of some of the chairs he was designing and told me about his home, his children, and his job. After circling over Grand Rapids a few times, our plane headed to Detroit. The pilot informed us that we were unable to land in Grand Rapids due to rough weather conditions but that we’d  be landing in Detroit and could catch a flight to Grand Rapids the next morning.

This put quite a damper on my business trip, which was a two-day, full-to-the-brim excursion in an effort to better understand the inner workings of the world of career development in higher education. I felt the same panicky feeling I’d felt when my tire exploded in Oklahoma. I was alone, inexperienced, and afraid.

Steve calmly led me through the airport. He negotiated hotel stays for both of us, and he hailed a taxi cab. He paid for the taxi and told me to meet him in the lobby the next morning at 6:30 a.m. He treated me the same way I imagine he would have treated his own daughter if she’d been sitting next to him on that  plane.

God showed me His love and care through the kindness of that man, and He reminded me that He would always provide for me, sometimes without me lifting a finger.

He always has.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels unawares.” –Hebrews 13:2